Here are some of the ways bias can upend your talent pipeline, even when you are trying to improve fairness and increase access for traditionally overlooked workers.
How do employees feel about the path to promotion at your company? Measurement mistakes can obscure the picture.
Even leaders that are heavily invested in fairness and equity can make unconscious mistakes that disadvantage groups of employees. When executives focus only on targeted programs designed to increase equity and inclusion, they can miss other factors that have a profound impact.
“Leaders think: ‘We’ve got this program, this career page, and we’re doing everything fairly’ — but everything outside of those activities is having a negative impact on employees’ experiences,” says Marcus Erb, vice president, data and innovation at Great Place To Work®.
The research has revealed the importance of Four Equities, a powerful framework that helps companies diagnose and response to hidden bias in their workforce.
Erb shared four of the common mistakes that Great Place To Work has found when analyzing a lack of fairness in promotions:
1. You don’t account for individual relationships.
The hiring process or promotion evaluation system might be identical for all employees, but still misses important relationships that can skew the results.
“The way you get assigned to a project, which is what determines your pay and career path, and your network, can be very different across roles and individual identities,” says Erb. “It’s one of those things that can be an invisible.”
To combat bias, organizations must be very intentional in how they foster relationships between management levels.
“Are you bringing people in and connecting them with advocates and mentors and sponsors in an equitable way?” Erb asks.
2. You have unnecessary, or irrelevant job requirements.
Does every role in your company require a college degree? How should a 4-year bachelor’s degree weigh against four years of service within the company or company-offered training?
When college degrees are required for making the jump from the frontline into management roles, that barrier can hamper diversity and undermine workers’ investment in a future with the company.
“A default requirement for a college degree might prevent people who’ve been in a part-time hourly role from moving up — even though they’ve earned the same experience and insights while working at the company,” Erb says.
3. You don’t measure horizontal movement.
You might be carefully tracking how many individual contributors make the jump into frontline manager roles each year. You might know how many of your C-suite once held a position in the mailroom. It’s much less common to track how horizontal moves enable some employees to climb the ladder while others can’t advance.
What are the fast-track lanes for advancement in your company? If joining a specific team or participating in a special project opens important career doors, those opportunities should be carefully measured.
Great workplaces should also measure how many employees are taking new roles in different departments, even when those moves are not a promotion. Those moves might clear the way for future advancement, and often play a significant role in overall equity across the organization.
Again, it often comes down to manager discretion, says Erb. “If there’s no system for decisions on lateral moves and opportunities, managers will rely on instinct and personal preference, and bias will remain invisible.”
4. You don’t ask employees about their experiences.
An external auditor can help evaluate hiring practices and the path to promotion — but you have to ask employees directly about their experiences or you will miss an important piece of the puzzle.
“You can do really complicated math to prove you’re being equitable, but the voice of the employee doesn’t sugarcoat anything,” says Erb. If employees are having an experience that contradicts the math, it’s time to reconsider your strategy.
“It’s not always bad news, either,” Erb says. “Sometimes employees say, ‘This is working for us; we’ve made improvement here.’”
When you find something that works, you can formalize the practice and scale it to the rest of the organization.
Get more insights
Learn more strategies from our workplace culture experts at our For All™ Summit, May 7-9 in New Orleans.